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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
EU rejects full Hamas ban
Hamas flags
The EU continues to distinguish between the two wings of Hamas

The European Commission has rejected calls from the United States to outlaw the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, as a terrorist organisation.

The chief spokesman for the Commission, Reijo Kemppinen, said that although the EU had banned Hamas' military organisation, it would not act against the group's political wing.

His statement came two days after President Bush strongly urged the Europeans to stamp out all fund-raising for Hamas and seize its assets, saying the group was an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

You can't say that the whole of Hamas is a terrorist organisation and certainly that is not our position
Reijo Kemppinen
Correspondents say the EU continues to distinguish between the welfare activities of Hamas and its military operations, which regularly include suicide attacks in Israel.

Diplomats are quoted as saying that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas asked the EU to press Hamas into accepting a ceasefire, but to refrain from moves that would make his own position more difficult.

'Disagreement'

Speaking at a joint summit between US and European leaders on Wednesday, Mr Bush said the dismantling of such groups would be the "true test" of the so-called roadmap for peace in the Middle East.

US President George W Bush (c) walks with Greek Prime Minister and President of the European Union Costas Simitis (l) and European Commission President Romano Prodi (r)
Bush wants to see a ban as part of the roadmap for peace
Last year, the EU outlawed the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing.

But Mr Kemppinen said the political wing of the organisation was legitimate as it carried out social welfare activities such as running clinics and schools.

"You can't say that the whole of Hamas is a terrorist organisation and certainly that is not our position," he said.

"Clearly there is some disagreement."

Correspondents say that the strongest opposition to a complete ban on Hamas has come from France, which believes the political wing has a role in the Middle East peace process.

Some other EU members, led by the United Kingdom, have been urging the union to follow the US position.


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